If you’re thinking about going to Namibia, I have 3 little words for you, stolen from Nike – JUST DO IT!
Namibia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to — and since I’m new here, I’ll just quickly say that I’ve been to 75+ countries and counting — and the unspoiled, out-of-this-world terrain is truly like another planet. You won’t regret it, and Namibia will be unlike anywhere else you have ever visited. It’s a great, all-year-round destination, plus it’s very safe.
I mean, one day you can be at the beach, the next in the desert and the next day you can be on safari — how epic is that?
That being said, if you don’t want to pay for expensive bush flights (aka Maldives seaplane-level pricing) across the vast expanse of the country — which is the most common mode of transportation for tourists to get from A to B — then renting a car is the best way to see the country at a fraction of the cost. Plus, renting a car gives you the freedom to come and go as you please and explore at your leisure, which is great in a place like Namibia where tons of wildlife and epic scenery is always right off the highway!
What’s A Good Namibia Road Trip Itinerary?
Before I get into all the tips I learned first hand – some, the hard way – while road tripping Namibia, I wanted to share my itinerary, in case you are also looking at taking a similar route. During our one-week road trip of Namibia, we drove from:
- Windhoek Airport to Swakopmund (~5 hours) — great paved roads and you’ll see lots of warthogs, baboons and super tall ant hills along the road; FYI stop in Okahandja to refuel, which is a good half way point of the drive.
- Swakopmund to Skeleton Coast National Park (~9 hours roundtrip) — we based ourselves for 3 days at The Strand Hotel Swakopmund, so we did our drive up to the Skeleton Coast National Park and back all in a day trip, which is long, but totally doable if you take turns driving.
- Swakopmund to Sossusvlei/Deadvlei (~7 hours) —this is the most treacherous road I have ever driven on and the inspiration for this blog post! If you are thinking about driving from either Windhoek, Swakopmund or Walvis Bay to Sossusvlei then do yourself a favor and read this entire blog post! Also, make sure you stop in Solitaire to refuel (they take cash and card), get your tire pressure checked, and grab some yummy apple pie from the bakery 🙂 FYI while we visited Sossusvlei/Deadvlei we stayed at Little Kulala.
And dear God, do yourself a favor and rent a 4×4 truck or SUV for your Namibia road trip
We rented a Toyota RAV4 SUV from Hertz at Windhoek airport for $500 for 8 days, and this 4×2 SUV BARELY got us through our road trip across Namibia safely. I am KICKING myself, since I was offered a free upgrade to a 4×4 pickup, which I turned down at the time, since I don’t like driving big cars like that — what an amateur move and if I had a time machine I would 100% take that free upgrade and even pay extra for it knowing what I know now!
The roads in Namibia vary from paved, to salted, to dirt, and they change at a moments notice without warning and without signs giving you a heads up. The dirt roads en route to Sossusvlei have MASSIVE potholes all over the road — not just in one place — and the roads are so bad that I couldn’t drive any faster than 10 mph for long stretches, even in our Toyota Rav 4 SUV. Godspeed to tourists I saw in small sedans driving those same roads — I have NO idea how, or if they would have even made it!
Regardless of what type of vehicle you rent, know how to change a tire!
I wish I had done more research and realized how awful the roads in Namibia can be, and I would have had my step dad teach my husband and I how to change a tire. Namibia is not the type of place you want to try out changing your first ever tire, since there is really no one on the road to stop and help you out if you have a problem or can’t figure it out.
Even if you know how to change a tire, have the right type of vehicle, etc., I would still have “How to Change a Tire” YouTube videos downloaded to your phone just in case, and I would ask the car rental agency if they have extra spare tires that you can throw in the trunk, so that you have multiple spares on hand — just in case!
Consider getting a Sat phone and stock up on water and food
Namibia is one the least densely populated countries in the world, and it’s not uncommon to drive for hours and not see a single living soul on the road other than some Oryx or Springbok.
We had no cell service the entire time we were in Namibia, so we made sure to stock the car up with plenty of water and snacks that would last us multiple days, in the event we ran out of fuel, popped a tire and couldn’t fix it, had engine trouble, etc.
In hindsight, I wish we had looked into renting a satellite phone for our Namibia road trip, and if I ever did this trip again, I would look into having one in case of emergency.
Whenever you see a gas station stop and fill up!
Since you have to drive so slow in most of Namibia due to the dirt roads with epic potholes, I can understand why people wouldn’t want to stop and get fuel every time they see a gas station.
That being said, don’t be an idiot and just stop and fill up!
You are in the middle of the desert and fuel, food, bathrooms, etc. are hard to come by, so don’t take it for granted!
Gas in Namibia is similarly priced to the US (varies between $3-$4 a gallon) and all of the stations we stopped at to fuel up took US credit cards. I had read that stations would only took cash, so I had plenty on me, which I don’t think is a bad idea in the grand scheme of things. At some stations they would have connectivity problems when trying to swipe my card, so be smart and have enough cash on you in case you card gets rejected or if they can’t connect to the server to process your card payment.
Don’t rely only on Google Maps
We printed out Google Maps directions before we left home, and they weren’t much help when you’re used to putting your phone up on the dashboard and having it tell you exactly when and where to go without you having to think.
When we landed at Windhoek Airport from Cape Town we didn’t have our directions to Swakopmund pre-downloaded in the app and wifi at the airport wasn’t reliable, so we decided to rely on our printed out Google Maps instead.
This did not serve us well, and we go lost in downtown Windhoek and had to stop and ask for directions. Thankfully everyone in Namibia is super friendly and helpful, so when we asked the front desk attendants and security guard at the Hilton Windhoek for help, they were happy to oblige.
It took us an hour or so to figure it all out, but the main lesson learned was to 1. Pre-download your routes in Google Maps and 2. don’t rely solely on Google Maps and buy a good ole fashioned paper map for back up — like they used to do in the olden days 🙂
Final thoughts on road tripping Namibia
Don’t forget that in Namibia you’ll be driving on the left side of the road, but don’t let that worry you, since there is very little traffic and driver’s are friendly and will yield if they see you having a hard time figuring out where you’re going.
Road tripping Namibia was one of the best experiences of our lives, and I wouldn’t trade the memories we made for anything!
Keep in mind that is will take you considerably more time to get from A to B than it does back home, but it’s well worth it, so don’t forget to stop along the way and “smell the roses,” take pictures, marvel at the incredible scenery and nature, etc., since Namibia is a one-of-a-kind gem that is unlike anywhere else in the world!
So glad people are realising how amazing this trip is – if GSTP will allow it, happy to send my wife’s full itinerary for our recent trip which was an awesome and similar mix of luxury and 4×4 truck based accom through the best parts. Beth@ villahush. com No advertisement, just happy to share the love
It sounds like you didn’t get caught in a sandstorm. I got caught in 2, and had 4 flat tires. Fortunately I wasn’t driving as your trip sounds like Disneyland compared to where we went. You’re referring to the equivalent of interstate highways. Yes, go to Namibia, but don’t expect it to be like Kansas.
Super interesting! When it comes to money, how much did the trip cost you? Car rental with full insurance?
I agree a road trip in Namibia is a must!!!! Back in 2010 after the world cup we spent a week in Namibia and rented a car at Hertz! We rented an automatic car but upon arrival got a free upgrade to a 4×4 pickup truck! Once we learned the 4×4 pickup truck was stick/manual, we turned down the free upgrade. We then learned they ran out of automatic vehicles (hence the free upgrade)….. we told them we didn’t know how to drive stick. The employee offerred to teach us to drive stick for 30 minutes and see whether we’d feel more comfortable. Lo and behold we took up the free upgrade offer and free manual lesson and rented the 4×4 pickup truck! Yes it was scary to drive stick the first time but we got used to it. In fact, Namibia is great to learn stick given how there’s barely any traffic and the paved roads are nice!
One more thing I’d add is to stop by the Tropic of Capricorn sign and take a pic! We did a similar itinerary to yours but with the addition of going to Etosha National Park as well.
Could you comment about hiring a car + driver? We are too old to change tires (especially 4 times) but we would really like to take such trip.
Waaooohh interesting on how Namibia is doing in the African safari charts, looking out for more top adventure destinations in Africa? Visit Uganda the Pearl of Africa home to half of the world’s population of the Mountain Gorillas.
Great article! It has me itching
We just got back from a great road trip through parts of Namibia and agree that Namibia is definitely worth seeing.
Our itinerary was slightly different and we preferred to stay on the paved roads as much as we could. We drove north from Windhoek to Waterberg Plateau Park with some gravel roads approaching the Waterberg. The park is home to many baboons and other wildlife. It is a magical place, super relaxing with magnificent views. We continued north to the Etosha National Park where we saw many elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes and large herds of zebra, springbok, impala, wildebeest and hartebeest and other wildlife. If and when you go to Namibia driving to the Etoshapan is a MUST. From there we headed in a southwesterly direction to Swakopmund on the Atlantic ocean and drove between the ocean and the beautiful sand dunes to Walvisbay where we saw countless flamingos at low tide in the Lagoon.
We had rented a VW van from Avis for 4 adults with several pieces of luggage. The vehicle handled quite well on the gravel roads to the Waterberg and inside the Etosha game reserve.
GO SEE NAMIBIA!
Went in 2015 and rented a Jeep Wrangler. We were on the road for almost 2 weeks and went from the airport to Etosha with a couple of overnight stops and then headed to Damaraland and on to Swakopmund, Sossuvlei and eventually back to Windhoek. I am surprised to hear that you found the roads awful. Our experience was totally different. Granted there aren’t a great number of paved roads but the gravel roads were very decent and we had no problems. I don’t recall tons of potholes at all and the bit about the road from Swakopmund to Sossuvlei being the most treacherous road you’ve been on seems a bit of a stretch. It was a long drive and we stopped in Solitaire as well. We had an agent book the places we the places we were going to stay and we had explicit directions printed out to follow. The roads are well marked. Perhaps things have changed since I went regarding the road conditions. We were lucky in that we had no flat tire during the trip.
Waoohh i love the bit where you point out Namibia being another planet, amazing destination for a wild adventure safari in Africa. Thanks for the amazing resource!
Just do it indeed! Current South African Rand (ZAR) at 15.2 to the USD. Booked for 34 day self drive in June/July. Booked LAX-CPT on Qatar last fall for sub $3000 airfare with three legs in Qsuites (driving Cape Town to Victoria Falls via Namibia). Namibia is a fantastic adventure of animals and incredible scenery, relatively safe, and tourist friendly. Did a three week drive in 2015. There are accommodations for every budget from camping to ultra-luxe safari. Simple rules: never pass up a petrol station, rent a 4×4 with two spares, plan for little or no mobile phone access, and take plenty of data storage space – the photo ops are otherworldly…
Indeed, I wanted to do the self drive option but ended up with a group tour (fantastic just the same) because I was nervous about a self drive. Knowing what I now know, I would not hesitate.
I believe Namibia has sanctioned Elephant hunts that allows for the murder of over 500 Elephants this year. Beautiful country but inexcusable Elephant Hunting Policy. No respect for the Family Units and Society. Will not go there.
Very nice read! Thank you!
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